Jazz, Ragtime and Broadway musicals were popular facets of 1920's music.Jazz gained popularity in America and worldwide by the 1920s. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before in America. New exuberant dances were devised to take advantage of the upbeat tempo's of Jazz and Ragtime music.
By the mid-1920s, jazz was being played in dance halls and roadhouses and speakeasies all over the country. Early jazz influences found their first mainstream expression in the music used by marching bands and dance bands of the day, which was the main form of popular concert music in the early twentieth century.
Meanwhile, radio and phonograph records — Americans bought more than 100 million of them in 1927 — were bringing jazz to locations so remote that no band could reach them. And the music itself was beginning to change — an exuberant, collective music was coming to place more and more emphasis on the innovations of supremely gifted individuals. Improvising soloists, struggling to find their own voices and to tell their own stories, were about to take center stage.
In its early years jazz was considered the devils music by diverse segments of the American public. Vigorous public debate raged between supporters and detracters. A typical exchange took place between music critic Ernest Newman who debunked Jazz in a 1927 magazine article, with a reply soon forthcoming from jazz-king Paul Whiteman who argued that jazz was a genuine musical force - and we know who history shows was correct in his views.
Public dance halls, clubs, and tea rooms opened in the cities. Strangely named black dances inspired by African style dance moves, like the shimmy, turkey trot, buzzard lope, chicken scratch, monkey glide, and the bunny hug were eventually adopted by the general public. The cake walk, developed by slaves as a send-up of their masters' formal dress balls, became the rage. White audiences saw these dances first in vaudeville shows, then performed by exhibition dancers in the clubs.
The popular dance music of the time was not jazz, but there were early forms taking shape in the evolving blues-ragtime experimental area that would soon turn into jazz. Popular Tin Pan Alley composers like Irving Berlin incorporated ragtime influence into their compositions, though they rarely used the specific musical devices that were second nature to jazz players—the rhythms, the blue notes. Few things did more to popularize the idea of hot music than Berlin's hit song of 1911,"Alexander's Ragtime Band," which became a craze as far from home as Vienna. Although the song wasn't written in rag time, the lyrics describe a jazz band, right up to jazzing up popular songs, as in the line, "If you want to hear the Swanee River played in ragtime...."
The 1920's were Broadway's prime years, with over 50 new musicals opening in just one season. Record numbers of people paid up to $3.50 for a seat at a musical. It was also a decade of incredible artistic developments in the musical theatre.
Even in the 1920's the lights of Broadway lit up the billboards at night in a huge splash of color that was immortalized in song. The dazzling lights were an attraction in their own right that compared with the shows in popularity.
The Broadway shows were produced by showmen who took musical theatre seriously and tried to provide quality entertainment while making a profit at the same time. This attitude kept the musical theatre booming right through the 1920s. Among the hundreds of popular musical comedies that debuted on Broadway in the early 1920s, two classic examples epitomise the Broadway musical of that era – Sally and No, No, Nanette.
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